Sometimes you get to see how it all comes together. Or, how bits and pieces of a story all come together.
Sometimes you get to hear about ridiculous ways in which I behave and the special knack I have for saying the oddball comment out loud.
Sometimes one single blog post features both of those things – the coming together and the awkward.
This is that time.
First, the backstory —
About two years ago, the days of my life were dark, chaotic, stormy. (This is a euphemism. A gentle way to spin the reality the kids and I were actually living.) Times were terrible. My marriage was for certain over in a cataclysmic explosion and I was just focusing on walking one step at a time, sidestepping the shrapnel, eating one forkful of food, feeding kids one meal, breathing one breath.
Almost exactly to the day two year ago, a plain brown envelope arrived in our mailbox. Inside the envelope was a CD – The Burning Edge of Dawn by Andrew Peterson.
There was a post it note of sorts attached to the album. I wish I could recall exactly what the note said. But I can hardly remember entire months of my life from that time, so recalling the words on a post it note is too much to expect.
It said something like this: “This album helped me. Maybe you need it now too.”
It was from a friend that was truly more of an acquaintance at that stage of the story.
She was right though. She was profoundly and deeply right.
We needed that CD. We needed those songs. (We needed her family and their friendship too.)
I needed the words that this musician sang. And I listened to them. Over and over again. On repeat. In the car. In the house. When I woke up and when I went to bed.
London sat for hours once at a friend’s house, listening to the album and drawing. Sitting in the words and letting them cover her.
I tried to be brave but I hid in the dark
I sat in that cave and I prayed for a spark
To light up all the pain that remained in my heart
And the rain kept falling
Well I’m scared if I open myself to be known
I’ll be seen and despised and be left all alone
So I’m stuck in this tomb and you won’t move the stone
And the rain keeps falling
Somewhere the sun is a light in the sky
But I’m dying in North Carolina and I
Can’t believe there’s an end to this season of night
And the rain keeps falling down
And like this:
Oh God, I am furrowed like the field
Torn open like the dirt
And I know that to be healed
That I must be broken first
I am aching for the yield
That You will harvest from this hurt
Abide in me
Let these branches bear You fruit
Abide in me, Lord
As I abide in You
And so much more. (But I can’t just copy all the lyrics from the entire album for you.)
The point is – the music was a form of rescue. The words were a salvation in their own manner. A pointing to and a pointing through. A light.
We listened so much and so often that we eventually had to stop. To put the CD away for a season. Because we eventually learned to breathe without quite so much effort. We eventually all learned to close our eyes and not fear the darkness so viscerally. We turned our feet down a new path and the pain lessened.
But the songs were so poignant, that to hear them sometimes brought back the memories of the intensity of the struggle.
And so, for a season, our house put Andrew Peterson’s album on a shelf and left it there. It had served its purpose.
Now, we listen to it sporadically. As we do all music. It’s in the rotation on road trips and certain days. It’s not so painful and it’s beautiful once again.
That’s the backstory. Now to last week, the full story —
Hilary and I are attending a homeschool conference in our town. We head toward the escalator. Coming from the opposite direction, approaching our escalator, is Andrew Peterson, guitar slung across his shoulder and walking with a buddy.
We both look at one another, mouth his name and grin.
(We don’t know this part yet, but on the second floor is someone watching us. A friend, laughing as she sees our mouths open in unison as we recognize Andrew Peterson ahead of us.)
I say to Hilary, “Should we talk to him?”
Classically, she says, “No!”
I say, “I think I have to.”
And, she responds, “Of course you do.”
Then I say, “Listen. You can’t look at me when I talk to him. You have to look away. It’s too much pressure.”
Hilary took me at my word and I didn’t see her again for like two hours.
The whole ride up the escalator I just can’t bring myself to talk to Andrew Peterson’s back so I just ride silently up the escalator. As we both get off the escalator, I decide I just have to go ahead and risk it. I super awkwardly reach out and touch his shoulder, because if I don’t move fast the guy is going to walk right away and I’ll lose my opportunity.
“Hi, do you mind if I talk to you while you walk for a minute?” I ask him.
Of course he is a gracious human and he says yes – or something implying consent.
And then I begin to talk. To say words. I tell him about the envelope in the mail. I try to tell him about how much the songs meant during that hard season. About how powerful the lyrics were for our family. I’m trying. And he turns to me. Asks, “Which album?”
To which I intelligently respond with …. silence. Oh my word and for the love. My mind is a complete blank slate. What album indeed? I cannot even begin to think of the title. Not a clue on earth suddenly of what it could possibly be called. I said something like, “Oh man. Uh. I’m so embarrassed. The one with the song about, uh, about, the rain?”
Yes. That is basically how the conversation went.
To which he kindly said, “Oh yes. Sure. That album.”
Finally, my words thread themselves together somehow in a coherent-ish string and I am able to share why the album is so special. Accidentally I also tell him that the kids can hardly listen to it any longer. Yes, I’m pretty sure I said that to him. About his own music. It’s what I do.
By then the generous man has stopped walking. His friend is somewhat impatiently waiting for us to finish our conversation. But Andrew Peterson looks me in the eyes and says, “Thank you. Seriously. Thank you for stopping me. Thank you for sharing that.”
And I think he meant it.
Fast forward a few more hours —
Hilary and I have no tickets for the Andrew Peterson concert that evening. We are preparing to go home. And another friend walks by. “Hey, I’ve got these two extra tickets to tonight’s concert – want to go?”
Well, yeah, you know – sure.
It was 8:30. The concert was supposed to have started already. But when Hilary and I find our way to the ballroom where it was taking place, the doors for the general admission seats had not even been opened yet. There had been a sound system delay of some sort. First in line, waiting and inviting us to walk in with them, were a family of friends.
Can you guess who that friend was? That friend waiting in line to get front row seats at an Andrew Person concert that I had no previous intentions of attending?
It was the friend who had seen us from upstairs, laughing at our expressions as we met Andrew Peterson on the escalator.
The friend who, two years earlier, had decided that maybe I needed a CD about hope and light breaking through the darkness. The friend who took the time to buy an album and mail it to someone she hardly knew at the time.
And that is how I came to be sitting in the second row of a concert, listening to Andrew Peterson. Me on one end of a row. That friend on the other end of the same row.
During the show, Andrew Peterson did not sing many of the songs from the album The Burning Edge of Dawn.
He moved from the guitar to the keyboard. He finished his set. He left the keyboard and then shifted where he stood. The concert all but over. And then, he reached for his guitar resting on stage. He asked the audience, “I know it’s late. But. Do you mind? Can I play one more song?”
Who’s going to say no?
He picks up his guitar and plays the one song that I listened to most.
I’ve decided that I’m certain he was playing that song for me.
Thank you Andrew Peterson.
For writing this song. For creating the music. For listening to me talk gibberish to you in a conference hallway. For singing this song on a Thursday night where my friends and I sat, having weathered so many violent storms together, listening to you sing of the hope we absolutely believe in with tears flowing down our cheeks.
” ….. all this darkness is a small and passing thing.”
That’s the long and the full story.